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Generalised ambitions and wishful thinking are all very

well, but it would be sensible, I suggest, to do just a little

serious thinking before committing yourself to months of



As my family never cease to remind me, I am something

of a fanatic about making lists. I am laughed at, kindly,

both to my face and behind my back (I believe). Well, that

doesn’t bother me. I find it useful to make lists. Not only do

I make lists, I also prioritise them. I will never, even in my

dreams, succeed in doing all those things that I would like

to do. But at least I know what those things are, because I

have a list of them; and I know whether one of the things I

want to do is more vital to me than another, because I’ve

thought about it.


One exercise which I found useful earlier in life was to

work out my lifetime goals. I didn’t invent this exercise – I

found it recommended in a 1973 paperback by Alan Lakein,

who was, according to the cover of the book, a renowned

time-management consultant. I see from Amazon that Mr

Lakein still has a couple of books in print, and you could do

worse than have a look at them.

The process of deciding your lifetime goals is quite

simple. You sit down in front of a sheet of paper, and in a

couple of minutes you write down the main things that you

would like to achieve during your lifetime. Such as: get

married; have six kids; win the pools; travel to China.



Next, you answer the following question: How would I

like to spend the next five years? I won’t even begin to

suggest what you might write down here.


And finally, you answer another question: If I knew

today that I would be killed by lightning in exactly six

months from now, how would I live until then? (Isaac

Asimov answered this question by saying ‘I would type

faster.’ I think he was joking. In any event Asimov died in

1992 from Aids, an illness which he contracted through a

blood transfusion nine years earlier.)


The next step is to prioritise your goals. From the list of

lifetime goals, you select the three most important.

You do the same thing – choose the three most important

– from your list of things to do in the next five years,

and from the list of what you would choose to do if you

only had six months to live.

You have now identified nine key goals for your life.

At this point you take a fresh piece of paper, and pick

out the top three goals from your overall list of nine.

You have now zeroed in on what it is that you really

want to do with your life as you see the position at this



Of course your views will change as you grow older, and

perhaps wiser, and for a number of years I used to do this

exercise every time I had a birthday.

Once you know what your main goals are, you need to

work out the steps that you need to take in order to achieve

those goals. For example, if you want to become the chief

executive of your firm, you may feel that you need to get an

MBA degree. After that, you need to arrange a transfer to

the Baltimore office, so that you have some experience of

the American branch of the business. And so on. Once

again, you prioritise the steps which are necessary to

achieve your goals, so that you have identified which are

the most important – which are the ones you need to do


You can go on dividing and subdividing these tasks right

down to working out what it is that you need to do later on

today. And as a matter of fact I find it very useful to do so.

This may seem like a cold-blooded and mechanistic way

of planning life, and it certainly will not appeal to everyone.

I can only say that I have found it extremely valuable, at

certain stages of my life, to think in these terms and to

carry out these exercises.

Since I am now in my sixties, I no longer do the goalsplanning

exercise in quite the same way. But, as every

‘retired’ person will tell you, you never have enough time to

do all the things you want to do, even when you no longer

have to go to the office. So I do think very carefully about

how I am using my time. The writing of this book, for

instance, was not undertaken lightly. It was placed in a

priority list, and it had to wait several years to come to the

top of that list.

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning at this stage, since

we live in such a hectic era, that when you plan your

schedule, whether for the day or the year, you should build

into it a certain amount of time when you do absolutely

nothing – or at least something which is not directly

connected with achieving particular goals. All work and no

play makes Jill a hard-nosed, unattractive bitch. Your

Grandma told you this, and much else besides. Remember


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